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CLOSED: A Hasty and Unimpressive Start: Shabu Pub on Geary

I worked as a business consultant for many years — and while restaurants may not have been my specific industry, when you’re dealing with a service business, the same rules apply.

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The misleading menu at Shabu Pub

First, provide outstanding service. This is as vital to a business as is “do no harm” for doctors.

Second, make sure you provide all that you claim you will provide in your marketing; customers will figure out immediately when they have been duped.

There are, of course, many other “rules”, but these two were broken by Shabu Pub, and without these two, you don’t need the rest.

On a precious Friday night, I took my favorite boys and headed to Shabu Pub. I was both nervous and excited as the possibility of finding a shabu shabu place closer to my home than even Shabu House (which everyone knows I love), as it had gotten too popular, too busy, and too big for its own britches lately — but I was fearful that I would be spending a valuable Friday night dinner at a place I disliked which is a huge pet peeve of mine. If I wanted a crappy meal, I’d have chosen Monday or Tuesday to put myself through such an ordeal. I opted to do this dinner because a rainy night is perfect for shabu shabu, and having battled the line at Shabu House on previous Friday evenings, I figured a newer place like Shabu Pub would not require much of a wait.

As Mr. K’s status update in the middle of dinner stated, “I predict that Shabu Pub is going down on San Francisco Food.”

As usual, Mr. K was absolutely right, but the endless complaints I verbalized may have been his first hint. When I go to a typical neighborhood restaurant, I do not expect a lot. So long as you are charging your customers for food, I expect some basic things: good taste, decent service, a sanitary environment (at least to the naked eye) and a price point reflects all of the listed things. For example, if you’re charging $5 for a meal and provide good food with minimal service and a relatively clean place, I am more likely to appreciate that meal than if you charge me $50 to provide all of that same mediocrity.

Surely this makes sense to all of you?

The all-you-can-eat (AYCE) menu copies Shabu House exactly with the exception of offering three beef choices: prime rib, ribeye, or short ribs for $4 cheaper at $25.99 compared to its competition. Considering they copied Shabu House to a tee in concept and offering — this is great, right?

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Their regular beef platter.

Not so much – as they do not have prime rib in stock (how do you run out of anything in your first week?), and they also don’t much care which beef you do order — because they interchange at their own discretion, too. I had said we would start with the ribeye slices — and the first thing they brought out was the short rib slices.

Why did I not ask it to be replaced, you ask?

Well, we’d only been waiting 25 minutes for the meat slicer to even get started, and then between him slicing and the owner taking over to slice for reasons unknown to me — to ask for this plate again would mean that I’d meet my maker before this dinner even started, as I came STARVING and ready to eat.

So I ask the following questions:

  • Why ask which beef we want if you’re going to serve whatever you’re slicing?
  • Why offer prime rib as your premium beef item on the menu when you won’t have it in stock? I mean, I don’t want to sound picky but if that’s your star item on your menu, should you not have THAT above all else?
  • How hard is it to stock prime rib, people??
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The sauces.

I’ll go into the quality and taste of the meat later in this review.

While I am not a fan of copying other people’s successful businesses in the exact same neighborhood to split the profits, my take on this is simple: if you’re going to do it, do it better.

It’s not too much to ask that in a (1) three-quarter empty restaurant, the sauces be brought out before I ask you about their whereabouts; (2) the sauces be brought out by a server who is not literally trembling at the request; and (3) they be poured in a bowl larger than a sake shot glass. I mean — how much does a few more ounces of sauce really cost — because we’re paying $26 per person to eat here, and being able to dip into a bowl where the meat actually FITS would be nice.

The ponzu was ponzu — how bad can a ponzu be? (I don’t really want to know, but theirs was fine.) The sesame sauce was completely watered down and lacked in texture, as it was like milk, but it had an interesting twist of wasabi to it — but even with this twist, it didn’t measure up.

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Veggie platter at Shabu Pub

And now for the vegetables, an integral part of shabu shabu next to the meat, and perhaps the only positive thing I have to say about Shabu Pub.

The vegetables were fresh and deceivingly plentiful; they provided more tofu than Shabu House, with mushrooms, napa cabbage and spinach with udon noodles. They did add glass noodles to the mix, which I found to be a good add-on as it absorbed the taste of the soup better than udon noodles do. (Incidentally, Happy Shabu also offers these noodles.) None of us asked for more veggies on this evening, so I can’t say whether they would have given us more or not. But when one opens a business that identical to a restaurant that is merely 15 blocks away (Shabu House) and basically in the same district – then one begs to be compared to that restaurant.

Shabu Pub falls short on every single thing, unfortunately.

I had really, really hoped to find a new place that I could frequent, but this one just failed miserably.

First off – if you have a new business and customers walk in, with plenty of owners and employees standing around at a three-quarter empty restaurant — greet them like you have never been happier to see someone.

At Shabu Pub, they stood around doing whatever they were doing – which included hanging up stickers by the front door, or standing behind the shabu bar -and nobody but a single waitress asked, “How many?” Get a grip – you have a new business here! It matters very little whether the person is a food blogger or someone who is going to spend their last $25 dollars — welcome them to your NEW restaurant and create a loyal customer!

Then, our male server came to the table — and the poor guy was a nervous wreck. The more things that went wrong, the more nervous he became; it eventually got so bad that I actually felt bad for him and gave up midway through the meal. The sauces would run out, and nobody refilled; one small plate of meat was offered at a time (not to mention almost half an hour after we were seated — and this is raw meat, folks!) and we’d zoom through one plate, only to have to ask for another! Four people and one plate of meat — is it really surprising we wanted more within one minute? As mentioned, he got the order wrong, or they just didn’t care which plate of meat came out first — but our ribeye order was replaced by the shortrib slices.

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The meat…just falling apart in a BAD way because it’s so ridiculously thin.

To make matters worse – this place, like Shabu House, offers an all-you-can-drink (AYCD) option for $10 more — with $35.95 being, once again, $4 cheaper than Shabu House.

Now I never opt-in for this because I abhor hot sake, which is the only offering at Shabu House — so imagine my surprise when this menu had AYCD Soju — which is never served hot!

At the very beginning, we all decided to go with this; soju, we love! But when we informed the server, he asked if we wanted strawberry or some other soju mix.

Soju MIX? It says SOJU!

I explain we just want plain soju – out of the bottle; we even pointed to the 30 bottles against the wall by the shabu bar. He went and asked an owner, came back and told us we can only have strawberry or _________, whatever it was. Now if the menu had stated as much, I’d have dropped it here. The menu states NOTHING about fruity mixed soju, so I asked what those bottles were for – and he finally informs us that it’s for the mixed soju but that they cannot serve it separately.

In fear of giving the poor guy a heart attack, I decided to drop it and told us to just forget the AYCD and bring us beer. “I’m sorry but we do not have beer at this time,” he says meekly. You can imagine the expression on my face now — and he finally admits that they do not have their alcohol license yet. So I ask you this:  WHAT EXACTLY WERE YOU GOING TO SERVE IN THE STRAWBERRY SOJU YOU WERE OFFERING?

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What is this!?! I’m so irritated.

As for the meat — the taste of the ribeye cuts would have been good if ever I could get a whole piece into the pot, then into my sauce, and into my mouth!

The meat redefined “paper-thin” and could BARELY be lifted off the plate; once in the hot boiling soup to cook, it fell apart completely and at most you were left with 1/2 of what you started with on your chopsticks, which would then dismember itself in your sauce. Needless to say, this was seriously irritating and totally unacceptable.

So I’m sure some of you think that this review is too harsh for a place that has only been opened for a couple of weeks. But let me put it this way: I did not pay less than the person who will go a month or two from now; I do not expect less than what I pay for; I expect, when a restaurant opens its doors to the public, that it has what it needs to deliver the BASICS to its paying customers.

If I’m invited to a restaurant for a soft opening, free of charge, and things fall apart — I don’t mind and would never base a review on that experience. When I go to a dinner like this and it’s awful, I just don’t post and explain what I would say if I were to post (which also explains why I so often turn down a free meal).

But for Shabu Pub – they were so rushed to open that they didn’t train their staff; they didn’t stock their food inventory; they didn’t train their meat slicer; they didn’t even have the basics of customer service down pat. They, even two weeks after opening, have no business being open if they cannot offer the AYCE with the prime rib and sauces in place BEFORE the customer has boiled vegetables, and the AYCD on the menu PRIOR to the customer sitting down and expecting to be able to consume something alcoholic with their dinner!

Marketing yourself as an all-you-can-eat or all-you-can-drink restaurant when you really have neither…and not telling folks until they sit down…is unforgivable. To offer us so much less than what someone two weeks from now might get, but to charge us the same amount as anyone else means that they want to be judged as a real restaurant with a real customer. On this end, they failed in almost every single way thinkable.

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Shabu Pub’s Green Tea Ice Cream

It was a collossal waste of money. We could have gone to Shabu House for $4 more per person, then had all the drinks we wanted — and awesome American Kobe beef slices that didn’t fall apart in the soup (though service there leaves much to be desired, too, at times). Or, we could have headed to THE POTS and paid $4 LESS and had awesome service and great food, along with great thick slices of beef.

This place? This was ridiculous.

There is no doubt these people have no idea about how to run a business, let alone a restaurant — and unless they get some effective help or  guidance soon — I’d suspect this location will be up for grabs within 6 months — tops.

And that, folks, is the danger of opening up an identical business mere blocks away from SF’s top-rated Shabu House; you have to be BETTER to contend.

Shabu Pub is located on Geary between 2nd and 3rd, though I don’t know why you’d ever want to go– and it appears they are opened for lunch and dinner, all the way to 2 PM. With alcohol, good food and good service — this would have been my second home, but it failed on all levels.

Service: 3/10 Ambiance: 5/10 Food: 3 Addictive Factor: 1/10 Overall Rating: 2.7/10

Update: Shabu Pub changed to Shabu Sushi (told you they’d close) — and then they went out of business. Good riddance.

Grace Keh

Managing Editor

Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.


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San Francisco Food® has been providing trusted restaurant reviews and recipes since 2009, led by food author Grace Keh & read by food lovers worldwide.


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